By HIYOSHI SA-AMI YASUKIYO
(Date unknown, probably first half of the fifteenth century.)
I am one who lives near the Western Pagoda. My name is Musashibō Benkei. In fulfillment of a certain vow I have been going lately by night at the hour of the Ox 1 to worship at the Gojō Temple. Tonight is the last time; I ought soon to be starting.
Hie! Is any one there?
Here I am.
I sent for you to tell you that I shall be going to the Gojō Temple to-night.
I tremble and listen. But there is a matter that I must bring to your notice. I hear that yesterday there was a boy of twelve or thirteen guarding the Gojō Bridge. They say he was slashing round with his short sword as nimble as a bird or butterfly. I beg that you will not make your pilgrimage to-night. Do not court this peril.
That's a strange thing to ask! Why, were he demon or hobgoblin, he could not stand alone against many. We will surround him and You shall soon see him on his knees.
They have tried surrounding him, but he always escapes as though by magic, and none is able to lay hands on him.
When he seems within their grasp
From before their eyes
Suddenly he vanishes.
This strange hobgoblin, elfish apparition,
Into great peril may bring
The reverend limbs of my master.
In all this City none can withstand the prowess
Of this unparalleled monster.
If this is as you say, I will not go to-night; and yet . . . No. It is not to be thought of that such a one as Benkei should be affrighted by a tale. To-night when it is dark I will go to the bridge and humble this arrogant elf.
And while he spoke,
Evening already to the western sky had come;
Soon the night-wind had shattered and dispersed
The shapes of sunset. Cheerless night
Came swiftly, but with step too slow
For him who waits.
(A Comic interlude played by a bow-master is sometimes used here to fill in the time while BENKEI is arming himself.)
I am Ushiwaka. I must do as my mother told me; "Go up to the, Temple 1 at daybreak," she said. But it is still night. I will go to p. 83 Gojō Bridge and wait there till suddenly
Moonlight mingles with the rising waves;
No twilight closes
The autumn day, but swiftly
The winds of night bring darkness.
CHORUS (speaking for USHIWAKA).
Oh! beauty of the waves! High beats my heart,
High as their scattered pearls!
Waves white as dewy calabash 1 at dawn,
By Gojō Bridge.
Silently the night passes,
No sound but my own feet upon the wooden planks
Clanking and clanking; still I wait
And still in vain.
The night grows late. Eastward the bells of the Three Pagodas toll.
By the moonlight that gleams through leaves of these thick cedar-trees
I gird my armour on;
I fasten the black thongs of my coat of mail.
I adjust its armoured skirts.
By the middle I grasp firmly
My great halberd that I have loved so long.
1 lay it across my shoulder; with leisurely step stride forward.
Be he demon or hobgoblin, how shall he stand against me?
Such trust have I in my own prowess. Oh, how I long
For a foeman worthy of my hand!
The river-wind blows keen;
The night is almost spent,
But none has crossed the Bridge.
I am disconsolate and will lie down to rest.
Then Benkei, all unknowing, p. 84
Came towards the Bridge where white waves lapped.
Heavily his feet clanked on the boards of the Bridge.
And even before he saw him Ushiwaka gave a whoop of joy.
"Some one has come," he cried, and hitching his cloak over his shoulder
Took his stand at the bridge-side.
Benkei discerned him and would have spoken....
But when he looked, lo! it was a woman's form!
Then, because he had left the World, 1 with troubled mind he hurried on.
Then Ushiwaka said,
"I will make game of him," and as Benkei passed
Kicked at the button of his halberd so that it jerked into the air.
BENKEI (cries out in surprise).
Ah! fool, I will teach you a lesson!
Then Benkei while he retrieved his halberd
Cried out in anger,
"You shall soon feel the strength of my arm," and fell fiercely upon him.
But the boy, not a jot alarmed,
Stood his ground and with one hand pulled aside his cloak,
While with the other he quietly drew his sword from the scabbard
And parried the thrust of the halberd that threatened him.
Again and again he parried the halberd's point.
And so they fought, now closing, now breaking.
What shall Benkei do? For when he thinks that he has conquered,
With his little sword the boy thrusts the blow aside.
Again and again Benkei strikes.
Again and again his blows are parried, p. 85
Till at last even he, mighty Benkei,
Can do battle no longer.
Disheartened he steps back the space of a few bridge-beams.
"Monstrous," he cries, "that this stripling . . . No, it cannot be.
He shall not outwit my skill."
And holding out his halberd at full length before him
He rushed forward and dealt a mighty blow.
But Ushiwaka. turned and dived swiftly to the left.
Benkei recovered his halberd and slashed at the boy's skirts;
But he, unfaltering, instantly leapt from the ground.
And when he thrust at the boy's body,
Then Ushiwaka squirmed with head upon the ground.
Thus a thousand, thousand bouts they fought,
Till the halberd fell from Benkei's weary hands.
He would have wrestled, but the boy's sword flashed before him,
And he could get no hold.
Then at his wits' end, "Oh, marvellous youth!"
Benkei cried, and stood dumbfounded.
Who are you that, so young and frail, possess such daring? Tell us your name and state.
Why should I conceal it from you? I am Minamoto Ushiwaka.
I am. And your name . . .
CHORUS (speaking for BENKEI).
"I am called Musashi Benkei of the Western Pagoda.
And now that we have told our names,
I surrender myself and beg for mercy;
For you are yet a child, and I a priest.
Such are your rank and lineage, such your prowess
That I will gladly serve you. p. 86
Too hastily you took me for an enemy; but now begins
A three lives' bond; henceforward 1
As slave I serve you."
So, while the one made vows of homage, the other girded up his cloak.
Then Benkei laid his halberd across his shoulder
And together they went on their way
To the palace of Kujō. 2
81:1 1-3 A. M.
82:1 The Kurama Temple.
83:1 Flowers of the yūgao or calabash. There is a reference to Lady Yugao (see p. 142, who lived at Gojō.
84:1 Because he was a priest.
86:1 I.e. three incarnations.
86:2 Ushiwaka's home.